Government

Iowa schools could forego hiring nurses under proposed legislation

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — School districts would be given the flexibility to decide whether to hire full-time school nurses and librarians under a sweeping piece of legislation advanced Tuesday by Iowa Senate Republicans.

The proposal also would eliminate requirements that schools report some health screening measures, which the bill’s supporters say are duplicative.

Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the proposal’s simple goal is to grant more authority to school boards and other local officials who, she said, know how to best serve the students in their districts.

“We are giving those options back to the school boards, where they rightly belong,” Sinclair said.

The bill is opposed by a slew of health care advocacy organizations but supported by groups representing rural school districts and the state’s school boards.

Now, schools are required to gather students’ health screening information from parents. The elimination of that requirement is among the legislation’s many proposals.

School boards requested the elimination of those mandates, according to Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards. The requirement is redundant because health care providers are required to provide that information to the state’s public health department, Piper said.

“Our intention is ... to better focus our attention and our energies,” Piper said.

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Sinclair clarified that the proposal does not allow schools to remove the requirement that health screening tests are conducted.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said his concern is if districts do not collect the health screening data, children who do not get those screenings could slip through the cracks.

“The schools need that information,” Quirmbach said. “They’re the most effective at gathering that information. They’re going to be the most effective at making sure that requirement is satisfied.”

Piper said rural districts could be helped by eliminating the requirement that all schools have a full-time nurse and librarian. She said smaller districts may prefer to contract with individuals to perform those duties as needed.

Quirmbach said he would be amenable to a discussion about modifying the requirement and how it applies to some districts, but he opposed the proposal to remove the requirement altogether.

Health care advocacy groups pushed back against the repeal of the requirement that each district employ a nurse, and others testified about the need to have librarians to assist students with research.

“I can tell you that it’s critical to have a school nurse in every single district, every single day,” said MaryAnn Strawhacker with the Heartland Area Education Agency.

Sinclair and Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, approved the legislation, which heads to the full Senate Education Committee. Quirmbach did not sign off on the bill.

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